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James Hibberd

July 2007 Archives

Monday ‘McBride’ Mystery

July 31, 2007 12:04 PM

Sometimes a morning ratings report contains a program title so utterly unfamiliar, so brow-furrowing and spit-take-inducing, you have to Google the show just to make sure it isn’t some spectacular typo.

Such was the case with ABC’s two-hour Monday night special called “Six Degrees of Martina McBride.”

Luckily, the Web search reveals an epic-length ABC News story titled, handily, “What Is ‘Six Degrees of Martina McBride’?” to explain the program is “a new show that combines [a reality] competition with country music and the social theory known as ‘six degrees of separation.’”

The show’s full description is dizzyingly complex and seems to involve contestants stalking, then serenading, a country singer in hopes of getting their song released on iTunes.

ABC News also produces the show, which adds to the weirdness: Why is the network’s news department producing a musical reality show, then running stories about it?

Having recently teased ABC for stocking its Mondays with reality repeats, it’s probably unfair to turn around and mock its reality originals. But … wow …

As for the ratings, “McBride” got a 1.3 among adults 18 to 49, tying an “Age of Love” repeat as the lowest-rated show on the major networks for the night.

Fox won the night with “Hell’s Kitchen” (4.0) and a “Kitchen” repeat.

CBS was second with repeats (including a “Two and a Half Men” that ranked second for the night). NBC was third with an original (2.1) and a repeat of “Age of Love.” ABC was fourth, followed by The CW.

How 'Big Shots' and Bloggers Can Save TCA

July 30, 2007 1:02 PM

ABC’s “Big Shots” has a coveted time slot coming out of “Grey’s Anatomy” this fall, but it isn’t until after the show’s TCA panel that critics understand why.

The quartet of “Shots” male leads—played by Christopher Titus, Michael Vartan, Josh Malina and Dylan McDermott—have terrific chemistry on stage, if not in the show’s pilot (whose original title was “Big Dicks”—hey, subtle). Despite being slotted as the last panel after weeks of network presentations, when critics are fatigued and irritable, the men charge up the room with their banter (Titus quips he lost 25 pounds after his divorce “because that’s what a soul weighs”).

Funny thing is: Publicists and executives increasingly wonder why they bother doing TCA anymore.

Why spend hundreds of thousands for coverage that can get off-message so easily?

The “Shots” panel—a session that converted skeptical critics to potential fans on a key show—is one reason the TCA remains valuable.

The second reason is bloggers.

Critics used to mainly write full-fledged print-publication stories about TCA. Their stories had to be full-boned stories, encompassing a central theme from the conference, or focusing on a particular show or a controversial issue.

But with many critics coerced into pulling double duty as bloggers, they’re now posting rapid-fire entries about dozens of panels in addition to their print stories. The upside: TCA arguably gets more media coverage than ever before. Panels for anticipated series like “Cavemen” or “Kid Nation” can become significant online news events, with dozens of perspectives linked on hundreds of Web sites. Meanwhile, panels for dull shows that would normally never get any press can garner coverage due to a single off-hand panelist comment.

Granted, the bulk of blog coverage is snarky dispatches about kinda-funny in-the-room minutiae. But the reason some publicists don’t like having bloggers at TCA is the very same reason that blogging makes TCA a unique and valuable opportunity to connect with viewers: Everybody loves to watch a high-wire act.

Fox Tops Sunday

July 30, 2007 12:42 PM

A three-hour block of Fox comedy repeats ruled Sunday night, with the network posting four of the top five shows.

CBS’s “Big Brother” was the only non-news original of the night, won its 8 p.m. hour and was No. 3 for the night with a 2.4 rating among adults 18 to 49.

CBS and NBC were tied for second place for the evening, followed by ABC and The CW.

This weekend, Fox once again won Saturday with its reality crime block and The CW won its sixth Friday in a row with “Friday Night Smackdown!” (1.4).

Hey, Who Isn’t?

July 27, 2007 3:02 PM

Critics ask Shonda Rhimes, showrunner of “Grey’s Anatomy,” what happened when she pitched her “Private Practice” spin-off to ABC entertainment president Steve McPherson over dinner.

Rhimes: "I really like my job, and so I don’t want to tell you what happened in my dinner with Steve".

Critic: “So [McPherson] was not immediately receptive [to the spin-off]?”

Rhimes: "No, he was. It was. I just—I’m scared of Steve.”

Rhimes was presumably terrified to reveal that McPherson spent their entire dinner explaining why Kevin Reilly is a great network president.


McPherson Denied Entry to ABC Party

July 26, 2007 10:46 PM

With more than 100 celebrity guests attending ABC’s party at the Beverly Hilton, the hotel’s security detail was given strict orders not to let anybody into the ballroom without an identification badge.

So when a blond man in a burgundy polo shirt and slacks tried to enter the event unescorted, guards were quick to block him.

“Sorry sir, but I can’t let you in without a badge,” the guard says.

“But I’m the president of ABC!” exclaims Steve McPherson.

Now the guards were even more wary.

Later they’d feel terrible about blocking McPherson from his own event. But at the time, one explained, it was tough to believe a young-looking man in a sport shirt was a network president.

To his credit, McPherson laughed it off. He went back down the hall to find a badge.

To Be Continued ...

July 26, 2007 3:42 PM

This blog will continue beyond TCA with television industry news and daily ratings.

Hearty thanks to the following sites, whose links helped make the first two weeks a success: Defamer, TVTattle, AintItCoolNews, TVSquad, Jossip, Digg, TIME’s Tuned In, MSNBC’s Test Pattern, Televisionary and TVBarn.

Fox Takes Wednesday

July 26, 2007 11:48 AM

Fox’s musical-reality double-header continued to dominate Wednesday ratings, despite “So You Think You Can Dance” hitting a season low.

A 90-minute “Dance” was first for the night with a 3.0 followed by “Lyrics” with a 2.8. In the karaoke game show battle between “Lyrics” and NBC’s “The Singing Bee,” the NBC show continues to score higher ratings yet has dropped steadily, while “Lyrics” earns a lower tally but has mostly held its audience.

NBC was second with two of the top four programs, with an on-par “Last Comic Standing” (2.5) and a relatively strong edition of “Dateline” (2.9).

In third place, ABC, with the season finale of “Next Best Thing” (1.9) and “American Inventor” (2.0) matching their lowest ratings of the summer.

CBS and The CW were fourth and fifth with reruns.

McPherson to Silverman: ‘Be a Man’

July 25, 2007 7:00 PM

ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson criticized newly instated NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman for shrugging off the firing of former NBC entertainment head Kevin Reilly.

When reporters questioned Silverman last week about Reilly’s ouster from NBC, Silverman said he only just arrived at the company and wasn’t involved in the decision. McPherson, who has been friends with Reilly since they were fraternity brothers in college, was incredulous that Silverman could take such a stance after Reilly championed “The Office” — which Silverman executive produces.

“Kevin Reilly stood up for the ‘The Office’ … made Reveille money … then to stand up [at TCA] and say ‘I just got here …,’” McPherson said. “Be a man.”

McPherson made the comments at TCA during a post-panel huddle with reporters. The executive also expressed irritation that Silverman says he courted “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Isaiah Washington before ABC fired him, noting such a move could be construed as inciting the actor to breech his contract.

"If [Silverman] was talking to him before he was available … he’s either clueless or stupid," McPherson said. “You guys let [Silverman] off the hook … that’s your prerogative,” he said.

The dispute is more than a little unusual since Reilly is now the entertainment president of McPherson's competitor Fox, while Silverman remains executive producer of McPherson's prized breakout hit "Ugly Betty"—which just earned 11 Emmy nominations for ABC.

Top ABC executives are unhappy about McPherson’s comments, sources said, which are effectively dominating the headlines of ABC’s TCA coverage.

UPDATE: NBC insiders defended their new co-chair and depicted McPherson’s attack as self destructive.

“He used his corporate pulpit for his own personal vendetta,” one NBC source said. “What does ABC care about Kevin Reilly? If anything, McPherson should be thanking Silverman up the wazoo for ‘Betty.’”

The source contended McPherson’s comments will alienate Universal Media Studios and Silverman’s former production company, Reveille, in which Silverman still holds a financial stake. “You don’t want to be a buyer scaring off your sellers,” the source said.

As for McPherson’s contention that Silverman inappropriately courted Washington, the NBC insider said: “Everybody in this town talks to everybody, McPherson has done it plenty of times, Ben did nothing that was actionable.”

NBC declined comment.

‘Daisies’ Lovefest

July 25, 2007 5:13 PM

And just like that, critics switch gears. They love “Pushing Daisies,” charmed by showrunner Bryan Fuller and his likeable cast. The critics embrace the panelists, the panelists hug back. Fuller comes off as prepared, honest and happy to be here.

Fuller says “Daisies” started as a spin-off of his Showtime “Dead Like Me” series and quickly works in his logline into one of his first answers for those who haven’t seen the show: “A guy can touch dead people once and bring them back to life; if he touches them again they go back to being dead; problem is he touches a dead girl, falls in love with her, and can never touch her again.”

Unlike some, Fuller readily confesses his creative influences rather than straining to present every element as his own brilliant creation. “[The music] was definitely inspired by Danny Elfman,” he says, then later: “I can definitely cop to ripping off [the tone of] ‘Amelie.’”

Fuller also quickly addressed a chief critic concern of how to make “Daises” concept work every week: “We’ve embraced the procedural aspect of it in a way that all of our stories come out of a place reflective of where the characters are,” he says. “So we use a procedural story about a whistleblower, but really it’s about all the secrets the characters are keeping from themselves.”

The only thing Fuller might have been wiser to hold back is how he will conclude “Daisies,” which might be the first time a TCA showrunner revealed the probable ending of a series before his first episode has aired. “If [the show] does end, it will probably end with a kiss” between the romantically frustrated protagonists, he says, which would result in the re-death of his female lead.

‘Cavemen’ About Race, Just Not the One You’re Thinking Of

July 25, 2007 3:17 PM

First “Cavemen” took knocks for not being funny, and now critics are attacking the ABC sitcom for being racially insensitive.

The show is supposed to explore race relations through the trials and tribulations of the cavemen characters, but some critics say the cavemen stereotypes—athleticism, dancing, sexual prowess, laziness, etc.—remind them of one race’s stereotypes in particular. Critics ask the panel if “Cavemen” is actually a show about African Americans.

“We never saw them as a stand-in for any one group,” says executive producer Josh Gordon.

“Is it something we’re aware of?” asked executive producer Mike Schiff. “Yes. Could it be an issue? Yes, but it’s our job to make sure it doesn’t come off that way. If you pick an offensive stereotype of any kind it’s going to bump up into some ethic group, it’s going to happen.”

The critics are skeptical. The panel consists of eight white men. Soon the producers are defensively rattling off the ethnicities of various crew members.

“We have an African-American man, an Indian-American guy, we have an Asian-American writer…”

“Three African American directors…”

“And a Latina...”

After several questions on the topic, Schiff suddenly slams the breaks on the entire “’Cavemen’ as a metaphor for race relations” premise that ABC has touted since first announcing the show (a premise McPherson upheld during his executive session just a couple hours ago).

“Is the show about race relations? No,” Schiff says. “Is that a background to the show? Yes. But it’s not the driving force behind it.”

'Lost' in Translation

July 25, 2007 1:06 PM

ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson is dressed entirely in black, sitting on the TCA stage, before a large wall of deep red screens.


Those familiar with McPherson’s temper might see this as a fittingly devilish visual. But the way critics abruptly turn hostile over ABC withholding a single bit of spectacularly minor “Lost” news, the setting is more appropriate to depict McPherson as having a hellacious TCA experience.

Things start out fine. McPherson touted coming off a season with two of the three biggest break-out new shows (“Ugly Betty,” “Brothers and Sisters”). “We feel really good about where we ended up,” he says.

Critics ask about ABC’s summer strategy (the network is running in fourth place right now). McPherson says next summer the network will try to stock its lineup with scripted drama and comedy.

McPherson confirmed formerly hot pilots “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Football Wives” are dead. He touts the amount of online interest in “National Bingo Night” that prompted its renewal.

McPherson also defends the “Pushing Daises” time period, a show critics are concerned will get overlooked in its 8 p.m. Wednesday slot. “[Daises] doesn’t fit neatly behind any show because of its originality,” he says. “It’s a family show. … We think it’s a good anchor for the night.”

Several critics mention “Cavemen,” asking whether the cavemen-as-ethic-minority angle is the best way to adapt the Geico ads. “The commercials are a one-joke thing,” McPherson says. “The nature of this series is to explore a group that is a minority and all the things and stereotypes that go along with that. If you just did the commercials on a 30- minute basis, that wouldn’t work.”

The trouble starts when a critic asks about a rumored announcement that ABC is planning regarding “Lost” tomorrow at Comic-Con and McPherson declines to reveal the news.

“They do have some announcements they are going to be making that I think everyone will be pretty excited about,” McPherson says.

Which seems like a perfectly acceptable response. But then the Star Jones Effect kicks in. Just like when Jones declared she was holding back a piece of news for a future venue, critics are quickly incensed that ABC seems to regard a convention of comic-book fans as more important than themselves. Fueling the fire is the fact that, unlike other broadcasters, ABC doesn’t have any TCA announcements, so this mysterious news nugget feels highly valuable.

“Do you want us to go to Comic-Con tomorrow instead of this session?” a critic asks.

McPherson tries to joke it off. “Let’s go now. You want to go?”

Questions move on to other topics, then quickly circle back: “I don’t think my editor is going to be very happy when she reads on a blog later this afternoon that Steve McPherson promised that the biggest news regarding one of the highest-rated shows on the network would be coming at a fan convention the next day,” a critic says.

Then another: “Not to be a crybaby … [but] what’s the point of having 150 reporters with access with millions of readers sitting here?”

Again, McPherson tries for a joke. “OK, I’ll give you the announcement … I cast Don Imus on ‘Lost.’”

Few are amused. Yet another critic: “This is a serious question. Newspapers spend a lot of money to get us out here. A lot of us are fighting to stay out here. We write about all your television shows. If you are not going to tell us what it is, you can at least tell us why you’re not telling us.”

McPherson: “Comic-Con has been a place that ‘Lost’ has had its presence for a long time. They have an announcement that [showrunner Damon Lindelof] wanted to make at Comic-Con. … It’s not earth-shattering. … It’s not going to change the face of television.”

Suddenly ABC publicity executive Hope Hartman crosses the stage and whispers to McPherson. The room goes quiet.

McPherson says: “All right. They just spoke to Damon. From the fury that we had … it is going to be announced that Harold Perrineau is returning to the show.”

The air goes out of the room. That’s it?

Reality’s Rough Night

July 25, 2007 11:38 AM

NBC came in first place Tuesday night, but it’s tough to declare any network a winner due to key reality efforts draining viewers.

NBC’s “The Singing Bee” and “America’s Got Talent” were the top two shows, but hit season lows (3.1 for “Bee,” 2.9 for “Talent.”)

CBS came in second, but “Big Brother 8” declined to 2.6 this week. CBS canceled “Pirate Master” this week and replaced it with a repeat of “48 Hours,” which fared better (2.1).

ABC’s reality block came in third with back-to-back episodes of “Just for Laughs” (2.2 and 2.7) coming in second place for the hour, but both dipped from last week’s premiere. ”). “Shaq’s Big Challenge” (1.9) was on par with last week followed by “Primetime: Family Secrets” (1.8).

Fourth-place Fox had another edition of “On the Lot” (0.9) and The CW had repeats.

In Defense of ‘Cavemen’

July 24, 2007 12:43 PM

Here’s an exercise: Close your eyes. Forget the Geico cavemen commercials have ever existed. We live in a world without Geico cavemen commercials. Good. Now, pretend the “Cavemen” concept was created by some geek in Austin who shot some funny low-budget videos featuring his friends in cavemen makeup and put them on his Web site. Now pretend that Comedy Central—not ABC—picked up this Internet phenomena and developed it into a sitcom, put it on at 11 p.m. Tuesdays with little fanfare.

Open your eyes. Do you still hate the show?

The point isn’t that ABC’s “Cavemen” is a funny pilot (oh, dear lord, it’s not). The point is that the critical and online mockery endured by “Cavemen” (whose TCA panel is tomorrow) has less to do with the idea than its backstory. It’s the icky feeling that “Cavemen” is a Madison Avenue product, a piece of corporate art designed to sell auto insurance that was co-opted by a big broadcast network desperately seeking a headline-grabbing sitcom, that makes it objectionable.

As a grungy homegrown effort on Comedy Central, “Cavemen” could have been a bizarre cult favorite—a programming move made by zeitgeist-Googling network executives and marketed to the same demographic of college hipsters who get stoned and watch MTV2’s ‘Wondershozen.”

On ABC, it’s an easy target.

The CW Reaps What ABC Sowed

July 24, 2007 11:45 AM

The first interesting thing about The CW’s “Reaper” is how weirdly similar it is to NBC’s “Chuck.”

The two shows have wildly different loglines (“Reaper” about a slacker whose parents sold his soul and has to work as the devil’s bounty hunter to pay off his debt; “Chuck” about a computer geek with government secrets downloaded into his brain).

But both are dramedies following an underachieving twenty-something guy with a zany best friend working in a big box department store who gains an extraordinary ability and is co-opted into fighting evil for a mysterious organization.

Both pilots are also, surprisingly, good (and, until last week when Ben Silverman played switcheroo with NBC’s fall schedule, shared the same timeslot).

“I've seen it,” “Reaper” executive producer Mark Gordon says of “Chuck.” “Our show is better.”

Gordon is right. While “Chuck” is likeable in the glossy, snappily edited style of executive producer McG, “Reaper” is scrappy and subversive in the style of its pilot director, Kevin Smith. Critics at TCA like “Chuck,” but voted “Reaper” the second best pilot of the fall.

“Chuck,” however, feels more likely to be a ratings success. In addition to being on NBC’s Monday night lineup rather than Tuesdays on The CW, “Chuck” stars the female-demo-siphoning Zachary Levi—an actor who plays geeky the way Anne Hathaway plays ugly (which is to say: not very convincingly due to genetics).

The second interesting thing about “Reaper” is who produces it: ABC Studios, which means mothership ABC had first dibs to pick it up. Nobody knows if “Reaper” will be a hit, but it’s miles funnier than “Cavemen.”

The best reason for ABC to shrug off “Reaper” is its concept is hugely off brand for the network—it likely will skew male and younger than most ABC programming. But really: Would gaining a few young males really hurt the estrogen-drenched network? ABC has been looking for a light-tone, one-hour show to follow “Lost” and this could have been it.

Fox Burns Up Monday

July 24, 2007 11:19 AM

Fox had its best Monday night all summer with the unscripted double-header of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” and “Hell’s Kitchen,” which were the highest-rated shows of the night.

“Grader” was a special airing that boosted Fox’s overall average and gave “Kitchen” a stronger lead-in than last week’s repeat. “Kitchen” earned a 4.1. rating among adults 18 to 49.

CBS was second with repeats. NBC had a slice of good news, with “Age of Love” having its best performance in a month (2.2), though only third-best overall. ABC was fourth with the CMA Music Festival getting a 1.9, on par with last year.

Carey Will Host 'Price'

July 23, 2007 2:05 PM

Drew Carey has accepted CBS’s offer to replace Bob Barker as the new host of “The Price Is Right.”

The actor-comedian made the announcement while taping CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman.”

“Honestly, it was like 15 minutes ago, [my agents] called me, it’s a done deal,” Carey said on “Letterman.” “I’m the new host of ‘The Price Is Right.’”

Carey was offered the position after CBS saw his hosting skills in its upcoming prime-time game show “Power of 10.”

Earlier this week at TCA, Carey expressed his enthusiasm about the coveted job.

“All I’m doing is giving away prizes,” he said. “And it’s not even my money. Oprah gets to say, ‘You get a car, you get a car,’ and she gets all the credit. That would be me.”

Carey won the spot over a long list of candidates, including “Entertainment Tonight” co-anchor Mark Steines, reality host Mark Walberg, former talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and GSN game show host Todd Newton.

CBS was under the gun to find a replacement for the legendary Barker.“Price” is usually in production by now for its September season premiere. Carey will run through a couple of weeks of rehearsal shoots to learn the 77 “Price” games.

Carey’s fans tend to skew slightly more male than the typical “Price” audience. Viewers of the final season of his sitcom averaged 55 percent female, while “Price” is about 63 percent female. But given Carey’s track record for drawing an audience and level of celebirty appeal, he should have little trouble drawing viewers.

TVWeek was the first media outlet to report the news of Carey’s hire, just as he was announcing it during his “Letterman” taping earlier today.

CBS had no comment.

Last updated at 3:33 pm.

'Simpsons' Block Tops Sunday

July 23, 2007 11:43 AM

Gearing up for “The Simpsons Movie,” Fox scheduled a two-hour block of repeats on Sunday and won the night. Over on CBS, “Big Brother 8” tied a repeat of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” to win the hour with a 2.4 rating among adults 18 to 49, but dipped from its most recent airing last Thursday. The rest of the night was tepid repeat-on-repeat action. Fox also won Saturday with its reality-crime block.

On Friday, ABC’s new game show “Set For Life” came in third for the hour with a 1.1 rating, followed by “Greek” (0.8) which fell 20 percent from last Friday’s debut and was the lowest-rated show of the night. At 10 p.m., however, ABC’s “20/20” was the top-rated program of the night.

Fox’s “Standoff” had its season (and presumably series) finale with a 1.0 rating, while The CW continued to perform well with “Friday Night Smackdown!” Repeats filled out the rest of the night.

There Can Be Only One

July 23, 2007 11:11 AM

Every showrunner fears lawsuits (or, worse, looking like a hack) so seldom do TCA panelists admit to watching the obvious forerunners of their new show’s genre. David Manson and Allan Loeb, executive producers of the immortal-detective Fox drama “New Amsterdam,” for example, professed ignorance of VHS-rental classic “Highlander,” which for a couple critics was too shocking to contemplate.

Q: “Pete Hamill wrote a book called ‘Forever’ … when I first saw the … the pilot, my first thought was, my God, it’s ‘Forever.’”

Manson: “I’ve never read the Pete Hamill book … it’s not surprising that there will be overlaps in this world. That’s about all I can say.”

Q: “Have you folks seen ‘Highlander’? And can you comment on the similarities and differences?”

Manson: “I’ve actually never seen ‘Highlander.’”

Loeb: “I’ve never seen ‘Highlander.’”

Q: “I find that hard to believe. It has a great fan following, still does today. I find it a bit surprising you’ve never seen it.”

Lobe: “I’ve never seen it.”

Mason: “I’ve never seen it.”

Q: “I was just curious why you said you hadn’t seen it.”

Mason: “I’d be happy to tell you had I seen it, but I haven’t.”

Kevin Reilly’s Prestige

July 22, 2007 4:12 PM

Kevin Reilly is back on the TCA stage, looking as if he just pulled off a particularly fine trick – which, of course, he did.

Any competent illusionist can make something disappear, lectures Michael Caine's character in “The Prestige.” But the challenging part, the really impressive bit that separates tradesmen from masters, is the prestige – when the magician makes the object unexpectedly reappear.

Reilly was pushed out from a fourth-ranked network and vanished from sight [gasp!]. But now’s he’s back at TCA, just two months later, as the entertainment president of the first-place network [yea!]. Reilly himself notes, “You're usually not presented, 99 percent of the time, with an opportunity to get back into another network—particularly one that you want to be at,” and you almost expect him to take a little bow. Thank you, and for my next illusion I shall require the assistance of a lady from the audience and a laptop.

The maneuver arguably says something reassuring about the television industry. If you’re strongly associated with quality shows, even if your ratings aren’t so hot, you will remain in demand.

Moreover, Reilly has always played the part of a network president so well that it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else. Picture Kevin Reilly slouching around the house all day, eating Life cereal in khaki shorts, anonymously posting opinions on “Friday Night Lights” message boards … it doesn’t work.

At the panel, Reilly gets a large number of NBC-to-Fox transition questions and he does a good job walking the tightrope between acknowledging his affection for programs he helped create and shrugging off years of work to pledge allegiance to Fox’s flag.

“Since I'm now in a situation where I personally feel really satisfied … I don't have that deep-seated, sort of torn emotion about it,” he says of shows like “Lights” and “30 Rock.” “I would like the best for them … [but] if those shows deserve to work, they will.”

Reilly was seated beside his ex-FX and new Fox boss Peter Liguori, who has no such ambivalence about Reilly’s prior efforts: “I want them to be all bloody failures,” Liguori declares.

Critics successfully stump Reilly at one point, however, inquiring about NBC’s famous dedication to sticking with low-rated quality show vs. Fox. How would “Lights” have fared on his new network?

“Notice how that answer just leaps out of my mouth,” he quips after a moment of thought. “I don't think it's really correct to say that Fox has necessarily had a quicker trigger finger.”

Reilly makes a case for Fox nurturing “House” and “Prison Break,” but the best example that Fox does occasionally stick with a promising flop is “Arrested Development” – great acclaim, terrible ratings, three seasons.

The other awkward part of Reilly’s new job is working with a fall schedule that is not his own. Reilly wrestled with this same issue when he first joined NBC. But this time, he says, the situation is more favorable for ongoing success.

“It is somewhat awkward,” he says.“ The good news is I'm not sort of getting behind the wheel feeling like the wheels are about to come off. … I'm going to be pretty low-impact in terms of the on-air stuff. The network's running well. I don't need to [say] 'everyone back up, I'm here to fix things.'"

When asked if it was accurate for NBC to say he was “fired,” Reilly smiles.

“No one is ever really ‘fired’ in Hollywood,” he says. “And no show is ever really canceled. You can pick whatever trade euphemism you want. I ‘segued,’ I want to ‘explore other opportunities,’ I wanted to ‘spend more time with my family’ – which I did for three days. All I can say is it ended up being very equitable.”

Liguori phoned quickly after his ouster, Reilly says. At first Reilly thought he was just another polite well-wisher. Once offered the job, Reilly says, “it didn’t take a lot of convincing” for him to accept.

“The environment feels right,” he says.

Reilly painted the Fox culture in glowing terms, but acknowledged a positive corporate culture is likely due to the network’s success. By comparison, Reilly admits he has a tough time being objective about his former home. “I just played through an extreme down-cycle at the previous place, which tends to not bring out the best in people,” he says.

Seeking to shift the critics’ focus off Reilly’s former network, Liguori says: “Our sights are not set on the No. 4 network. Our sights are set on the No. 1 network and creating a distance between us and the No. 2 network. … [We’re] playing our own game and not getting caught up in all this circus that, frankly, is a waste of time and doesn't help our network.”

Fox’s Announcements – Eco-Friendly and Otherwise

July 22, 2007 4:08 PM

Fox’s programming announcements: “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance” renewed for fourth seasons; freshman half-hour game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” gets another 13 episodes; “COPS” gets a 20th season; “MADtv” gets a 13th season.

Meanwhile Fox is showing compliance with Rupert Murdoch’s mandate that News Corp. companies battle global warming. The company’s TCA presentation has lanyards made from recycled bottles and talent arriving in hybrid vehicles.

There’s something weird about hearing Fox executives talk about protecting the environment. Such earnest altruism clashes with Fox’s slash-and-burn, devil-may-care persona. It’s like Bart Simpson sitting in church, squirming in the Sunday suit his parents made him wear.

Moreover, Fox announced that next season’s “24” will take steps to reduce its carbon footprint. “[‘24’] will strive to become the first television production ever to save enough energy and reduce enough carbon emissions over the course of a season to render its season finale ‘carbon-neutral,’” Fox announced.

Here’s the obvious, cheap-shot critic jokes: “An eco-friendly ’24?’ So Jack Bauer will electroshock torture suspects using solar panels now?” And: “A carbon-neutral '24' is easy—just produce another season like the last one since crap is biodegradable.”

'No Chef!'

July 22, 2007 1:23 PM

Chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” is going strong this summer and his “Kitchen Nightmares” premieres in the fall, yet the famously tempermental chef is absent from TCA.

Reporters wonder if the recent lawsuit by a restaurant manager accusing “Nightmares” of faking several aspects of the production (and a British network’s admission of a somewhat similar sin for one of Ramsay’s U.K. shows) might be the reason. Several Fox executives insist they wanted the entertainingly bipolar chef for a panel, but he was unavailable (he was also a no-show for January’s pre-lawsuit TCA).

Fox reality head Mike Darnell cannot comment on the lawsuit, but a member of the “Nightmares” crew contends the show was largely straight up. The struggling restaurants on the series (which Ramsay attempts to rescue in a weeklong makeover/intervention) “were so disgusting, we didn’t need to do anything" for them to look bad, the source says.

But what about the production stocking restaurants with patrons to make them look more successful at the end of Chef Shouty’s makeover?

That’s accurate, the source says. But viewers of the BBC version of “Nightmares” know Ramsay often invites a group of local patrons to come try the relaunched version of the struggling restaurant for the climax of his visit.

“Guests were invited, and paid a very small amount, like $25,” the source says. “They weren’t told to lie about their experience, only to be entertaining for the camera: ‘If you like the food, then really like it. If you don’t, then really don’t.’”

The litigious restaurant manager is probably in for a rough week when (and if) his episode airs. Darnell estimates he spends about half his work hours in the editing bay, tweaking the network’s reality efforts to his own design. Darnell would have a blast assembling the episode featuring a man accusing one of his productions of fraud. Put this perk in the “reasons to stay at Fox” column.

Darnell: When Limbo Feels Like Purgatory

July 22, 2007 1:17 PM

Fox reality guru Mike Darnell swears that – really, truly – he has not yet decided whether he will renew his contract. The executive is still on the fence about whether to become a independent producer with a presumably lucrative deal at NBC, or soldier on as reality overlord at Fox.

Thing is, nobody is more bothered by his indecision than Darnell himself. “I have not slept at all,” he says.

Head of scheduling Preston Beckman jokes he should start charging Darnell by the hour for his 4 a.m. calls, when Darnell phones to discuss his latest dealmaking pros and cons.

One thing Darnell is sure about: His upcoming “Hell’s Kitchen” spinoff “Kitchen Nightmares” is, he says, “the best reality show we’ve ever done.”

As for another new Fox reality effort, the “Laguna Beach”-style docu-soap reality series “Nashville,” Darnell grins. “I had nothing to do with it,” he says. “That's all I’m saying.”

‘Kid Nation’ — Last Word

July 21, 2007 12:31 AM

Executives and talent drop into the TCA limelight, spend an intense half hour or so getting questioned by critics, then can spend days/weeks/months kicking themselves for what they said (or didn’t say).

“Nation” executive producer Tom Forman took a break from vacationing with his family, flew to Los Angeles, faced one of the most aggressive inquisitions in TCA memory, then flew right back out after the panel. The experience, the questions and the coverage were definitely impactful, but Forman says he expected the strong reaction.

“Honestly, I was sort of looking forward to it,” he says. “I knew from the minute I conceived ‘Kid Nation’ that the idea would be provocative. And I expected to be asked difficult ethical questions.”

The panel, he says, went about as well as he expected, though he was disappointed by the number of “inside baseball” production questions. “I think I was asked about pretty much everything the viewers don’t care about,” he says. “The program really will open our eyes to a side of our children and ourselves that most people never see. That's what we should have been talking about.”

Ultimately, Forman says, he doesn’t “make shows for the critics.”

“My obligation is to the 40 kids who participated, and the millions who will watch,” he says. “And I'm 100 percent certain I did just fine by all of them.”

The Lion Sleeps for TCA

July 20, 2007 1:29 PM

The “Life Is Wild” session. An entire TCA cast interviewed via satellite. For a show whose pilot critics don’t like. Introduced with a preview clip featuring actors who have been recast. Yikes.

The cast is cozily gathered beside a fireplace on their game-lodge set. New hire D.W. Moffett (“Hidden Palms”), who plays a veterinarian father moving his family to South Africa, strokes a sizable lump of fur in his lap. The fur is a lion cub so inert it looks dead.

“What is that on your lap?” asks a critic.

Moffett shifts the lion so it wearily gazes into the camera. The cat has a tranked-out-for-TCA expression.

“This is Alleycat, who is just going to sleep,” Moffett says.

The lion’s head lolls. The set is decorated with animal skins on the floor and animal heads on the wall. Perhaps the cub was worried he would be the evil veterinarian’s next victim.

Suddenly a cheetah wanders into the frame to join the family/cast. The cheetah is unescorted. The lion cub is unfazed by the other animal and zonks back into happy-cat-nap oblivion.

"The cheetah is particularly friendly ... a lot more sort of relaxed than this guy can be sometimes,” Moffett says, stroking the breathing fur.

For the record, The CW publicists say they “can’t imagine” the lion was drugged for his TCA appearance. But even if he was, it’s almost certain the cub wasn’t the only TCA panelist this week to be sedated by handlers before being shoved in front of the critics.

CW Panel

July 20, 2007 10:59 AM

Critics can be excused for feeling déjà vu during The CW’s TCA executive session. The network has largely been in a programming holding pattern since president Dawn Ostroff’s last TCA session in January.

This summer the network has dropped almost completely off the map with repeats and the low-rated “Hidden Palms.” So for reporters who were at TCA in January and at The CW’s New York upfront, many of the talking points and clips are highly familiar.

Fortunately, The CW has spent its idle hours focusing on developing strong shows for fall. That The CW has surprisingly strong pilots has now become critic doctrine. “Gossip Girl,” “Reaper” and “Aliens in America” are frequently ranked among the top contenders for fall (“Life Is Wild,” not so much).

Ostroff announces the network has extended its deal with Tyra Banks for its top-rated “America’s Next Top” model until the 2009-10 season. In the spring cycle, the show will relocate back to New York after several years in Los Angeles. She also announces the addition of Laura Vandervoot as Supergirl in “Smallville.”

Critics laugh when Ostroff notes that “Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll” winner Asia Nitollano has decided to pursue a solo career rather than joining the group.

“Wasn’t [the show] pointless then?” asks a critic.

“There’s no guarantee for how this will turn out,” Ostroff says. “The participants get exposure. At the end of the day, you can’t make anybody do anything, but you can give them the opportunity.”

One critic asks how Ostroff feels about The CW receiving only one Emmy nomination.

“Obviously we respect our peers tremendously,” she says. “I think it’s a shame Lauren Graham and ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ were never nominated. … For the [18- to 34-year-old] audience that we’re trying to track, the Emmy nominations honestly would not make a big difference in terms of viewers.”

As for the light summer schedule, Ostroff says the network is trying to focus on having more original programming year-round, though she seemed to stop short of committing to fewer repeats.

'Viva Laughlin': Not a Musical

July 19, 2007 5:04 PM

The "Viva Laughlin" preview shows characters exchanging dialogue, then singing, exchanging dialogue, then singing. It plays like the scene at the end of "Chinatown" where Jack Nicholson is slapping a horrifying confession out of Faye Dunaway: "It's a drama! It's a musical! It's a drama . and a musical!"

But showrunner Bob Lowry says, contrary to just about everything written about the show, "Viva" is not a musical. "We're a dramatic television show-with music," he says.

Actor D.B. Woodside elaborates. "It's not a musical because there's never a character or actor who bursts into song," he says. "Every time a character sings, it's more revealing about who that character is. It's not because we're trying to run away from it."

Critics ask if the producers are essentially running away from the musical aspect of the show.

"We didn't want [the music] to be jarring," Lowry says. "We didn't want it to remove the viewer from the actual drama."

Burnett: No HD Upgrade for ‘Survivor’

July 19, 2007 4:07 PM

Despite online rumors to the contrary, CBS veteran reality staples “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” will not receive high-definition upgrades any time soon.

The fall and spring editions of “Survivor,” and the spring edition of “The Amazing Race,” will continue to be shot in standard definition. The ongoing HD delay has frustrated fans of the travelogue reality shows. CBS says the lack of durability of HD cameras was the key issue, while “Survivor” executive producer Mark Burnett says the cost of upgrading the production was the biggest hurdle.

“If CBS wants me to do it, I’ll say yes,” Burnett says.

A CBS spokesman says their positions aren’t entirely at odds—the lack of camera durability drives up the cost of having to replace cameras should they fail.

On another topic, when a reporter confesses he’s a fan of “Pirate Master,” Burnett looks pained. “I tried,” he says of the foundering summer reality show. “I don’t understand why it’s not working. All I can do is deliver high-quality shows.”

As far as the hot-button issue of the day, “Kid Nation,” Burnett expressed incredulity that parents were not present during the “Nation” shoot.

“They have to be there, it’s the law,” he says.

Carey: 'Price' Negotiations Continue

July 19, 2007 3:14 PM

“I don’t want to do anything that’s work,” Drew Carey says at TCA. “I don’t want to do anything just for the money.”

Well, not just for the money, but money is certainly a factor in Carey’s negotiations with CBS for the “Price Is Right” hosting gig. As first reported here, CBS made an offer to Carey for “Price,” but he’s holding out for more.

“We’re in talks right now,” Carey confirms. “I’ll have to see how it goes.”

After his long-running sitcom “The Drew Carey Show” ended its run, Carey says he didn’t want to work in television ever again. When he was approached for the upcoming CBS game show “Power of 10,” he says he agreed to the gig only because CBS arranged a light shooting schedule that allowed him to attend Los Angeles Galaxy games.

Which made critics wonder if Carey was up for the weekday “Price” shooting schedule.

“I wouldn’t have gone into negotiations with them if I didn’t think I’d be able to enjoy it and be good at it,” he says. “All I’m doing is giving away prizes, and it’s not even my money. Oprah gets to say, ‘You get a car, you get a car,’ and she gets all the credit. That would be me.”

Emmy Voters Trail of Tears

July 19, 2007 8:38 AM

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was entombed by critics in TVWeek’s Critics Poll, who rated it the worst movie or miniseries of the year, yet the HBO telepic received a stunning 17 nominations—more than anything else on television.

The most offensive way to take this: Emmy voters say “Bury My Heart” is better than “The Sopranos,” “Lost,” “Heroes,” “The Office” or even, yes peanut mailers, “Jericho."

AMC, whose executives aren’t even entirely sure what an Emmy looks like, got a runner-up 16 nominations for its Western “Broken Trail” (though critics at least appreciated that one).

TNT played this same trick with “Into the West,” which received mixed reviews, but received the most overall Emmy nominations last year with 16.

Coming in 2008: GSN presents their four-hour miniseries adaptation of “Lakota Woman.”

‘Nation’ Panel II: You Don’t Need a Bike to Backpedal

July 18, 2007 5:00 PM

After the dramatic TCA panel, the "Kid Nation” story exploded.

The best follow-up story at this early hour is from ABC News, which added some original reporting about the New Mexico labor law issue. Washington Post’s Lisa de Moraes also weighed in with some good transcript action.

As for the panel, it’s tough to do the drama justice. Critics hit executive producer Tom Forman about a myriad of legal and ethical aspects of the “Nation” production, many based on TVWeek’s “The Founding of Kid Nation” exclusive. Forman tended to follow a pattern of glib denial, obfuscation, then hesitant admission.

Some highlights:

On “Founding” stating that New Mexico was chosen due to having loose labor laws: “No.” Then: “Well, I don’t have the story in front of me.” Then: “We picked New Mexico because it had the right location.” Then: “We subsequently checked with our attorneys who investigated the legality of shooting the show and reported back that there wasn’t any problem.” Then: “It’s less child labor laws than labor laws.” Then, when asked if the show could be shot in California, which has tighter labor laws than New Mexico: “I don’t think so, no.” A critic asks: "Does it trouble you at all that, if I follow this story correctly, the way you filmed 'Kid Nation' would be illegal in a number of states?" Forman: “Is it something I think about? Of course."

On a production crew member quoted in “Founding” saying kids sometimes worked from 7 a.m. until midnight: “I don’t know who that production crew member is.” Then: “The kids woke up whenever they wanted and went to bed whenever they wanted. We were going to follow their lead.”

On “Founding” reporting that the “ghost town” chosen by Forman was actually a longtime film set built amid the ruins of a former ghost town: “Bonanza City was a real New Mexico mining town.” Then: “We also needed a place with 45 real buildings that these kids could populate and live in safely, where we had the flexibility to actually make a television show.” Then: “Some of the buildings are originals. Some have been built over the last hundred years. A couple we built ourselves.” Then, after a critic noted, “No buildings in a ghost town look anything like the buildings I saw on [the 'Nation' preview]," Forman said: “You have some existing stone structures from the original town.” To which the critic replied: “So as far as original ones, those were not the wooden ones we saw [in the show].” Forman: “Right.”

On “Founding” stating that “Nation” likely would have to find a new state to shoot a second season due to New Mexico changing its laws: “We’re not even there yet.” Then: “I plan to find the right location that seems right for the kids and right for the show and investigate the laws at that location. Until I do that, I just don’t know.”

After the panel, Forman said the next production may be shot outside the United States, which presumably would make the child labor law issue easier to navigate. And who knows? If the kids have some spare time, they could also make shoes.

Note: Some media reports say Forman shot down TVWeek's claim that New Mexico labor laws were changed due to the show. Only problem: TVWeek claimed no such thing. "Founding" said the opposite, that the new rules were not directly inspired by "Nation." Others say CBS denies they "broke" labor laws. Again, story says the opposite -- that CBS did not break labor laws. The facts in the story were ran by CBS and Forman. Their spin is different from what production sources told TVWeek (nobody's going to declare at TCA: "We hunted down a state with loose labor laws and a fake ghost town -- ha!"), but the facts are the same.

‘Nation’ Panel I: Another Way ‘Kid’ Covered Its Back End

July 18, 2007 4:02 PM

Not only could CBS’ “Kid Nation” not shoot in restrictive labor law states like California and New York, it could not cast residents from such states.

The “Nation” kids are from 14 states, but casting directors were told to avoid California and New York residents to reduce the possibility of labor law violation claims.

Executive producer Tom Forman confirmed that none of the 40 participants came from the first and third most-populous states. “Among other reasons,” he said, when asked if he avoided California and New York residents due to labor laws. Forman then claimed that children from California and New York are so entertainment-savvy, he wouldn’t want them on his show anyway.

'Bee' Loses Buzz

July 18, 2007 2:01 PM

NBC's "The Singing Bee" dropped a sharp 29 percent from its debut last week. Some decline was expected after last week's record-setting premiere. But losing nearly a third of the audience might cause a tinge of vertigo at the network, which earlier this week announced that "Bee" was moving from quiet Friday to competitive Tuesday nights on their fall schedule.

Still, the "Bee" rating of 3.6 among adults 18 to 49 is a big summer number, easily beating everything else on broadcast last night. However, lead-in "America's Got Talent" posted its lowest Tuesday rating of the season, with a 3.2.

ABC came in second place for the night, starting with a preview and premiere of its new hidden-camera comedy series "Just for Laughs," which posted a very respectable 2.7 and 3.0, respectively. "Laughs" gave ABC its best summer premiere numbers in the hour in five years. Enjoying its best lead-in yet, "Shaq's Big Challenge" jumped 27 percent from last week to a 1.9.

Over at third-place CBS, "Big Brother" continues to gain ground with a 2.7, while "Pirate Master" matched its season low with a 1.5. On Fox, "On the Lot" slipped below the water to post a 0.9.

And now, back to the TCA ballroom.

CBS: Patinkin Quit ‘Minds’ Due to ‘Personal Issue’

July 18, 2007 11:45 AM

Critics grilled CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler on why serial show-quitter Mandy Patinkin ran out on quasi-hit series “Criminal Minds.” Tassler repeatedly emphasized Patinkin’s issue was of a personal nature that would be inappropriate for her to reveal.

“He came to us and asked to be released from the show, and we were able to accommodate that request,” she said. “It’s a personal issue. The show is accommodating his needs. I can only hope in the very near future Mandy will be able to answer those questions.”

One critic noted Tassler said he quit due to personal issues, while the CBS press release explaining his mysterious departure cited “creative differences.”

“‘Creative differences’ is a euphemism for ‘personal issues,’” she said, drawing a huge laugh.

After the panel, Tassler stuck to the script, though she added that producers have not yet decided whether to kill off Patinkin’s character.

CBS Addresses ‘Kid Nation’ Story

July 18, 2007 11:01 AM

TelevisionWeek’s cover story “The Founding of Kid Nation” explored how CBS either smartly engineered a groundbreaking TV show that allowed 40 kids to escape the conformity of our consumer society and get a lesson in hard work and friendship that will last a lifetime, or found greedy parents willing to sacrifice their children for an exploitative and abusive new low in so-called reality programming.

You’ll find both opinions rephrased literally hundreds of different ways in the comments below the piece, including feedback purportedly from “‘Kid Nation’ parents.” (A surprising number of responders misconstrued the story’s description of CBS programming as “long considered the most conservative of the broadcast networks” as a shockingly naive liberal attack on conservative political values—the modest cost of Drudge Report flooding your site with readers.)

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler addressed the story on the TCA stage when a critic asked about “reports” that the network took advantage of a loophole in New Mexico labor laws and used the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch film set (which includes a couple of original structures, but was mostly built in 1983 for “Silverado”) instead of a real ghost town to re-create “Bonanza City.”

“The show absolutely did not violate any laws in New Mexico,” she said. “[The kids] were not employees of CBS. [Bonanza] was originally a ghost town … but it had been used by a couple of movie crews after that, yes.”

Not that CBS minds the controversy. Tassler repeatedly noted the network is actively courting debate as part of its strategy to create more buzz-worthy programming.

“There are aspirational elements to the show, but in order for a reality show to really get out there and change the landscape of television, you have to stir public debate,” she said. “We knew we were going to create some controversy. … I don’t want it to have a negative connotation. … The whole objective was to get out there, do something different and try and reach out to have people talk about the show.”

More to come after the “Kid Nation” panel this afternoon.

CBS Tries Non-Musical Approach to Promotion of Musical

July 18, 2007 9:33 AM

The best way to pimp a prime-time musical to crime-loving CBS viewers?

Pretend it’s not a musical.

New on-air ad previews for CBS's fall musical "Viva Laughlin" show viewers plenty of drama, intrigue and gambling—but no actual singing. The songs play in the background, and there's a quick cut of a character doing an Elvis-esque dance move on a craps table, but otherwise viewers are left with the impression the musical is just an oddly colorful drama.

CBS says the promotions are part of multi-pronged approach to promoting the series. During the Tony Awards, for example, the network aired 14 spots—and they all included singing.

“Like with many of our shows, we are targeting different types of audiences,” said George F. Schweitzer, president of CBS Marketing Group. “We’re focusing on it as a drama with music, but we’re not hiding that fact.”

Still, love the idea of unsuspecting "CSI" fans being horrified to discover that "Viva" includes the mirthful recital of song instead of murdered Laughlin prostitutes being prodded by a specialized crime squad.

'Jericho' Nuts Pelting Critics

July 17, 2007 4:39 PM

“I understand you will be out in California for the press tour. The fans are working VERY hard to recruit new viewers and we are always interested in any new information that can help our cause. … If you learn anything new or can talk/write about JERICHO to keep it in the forefront, the fans would be EXTREMELY grateful!!”

Critics are receiving e-mails like this from “Jericho” fans, the sort of politely worded yet fiercely annoying dispatches usually reserved for television executives.

The successful fan campaign to renew the show, which included sending thousands of pounds of nuts to CBS, seems to be entering a new phase.

The critics assume a fan site published a list of reporter e-mail addresses, and they are not amused.

“We are TV critics,” a critic says he wrote to one e-mailer. “We are not part of your campaign. You are making a serious miscalculation.”

“You’re responding?” another critic asks. “You shouldn’t respond.

“We need to give CBS hell for encouraging these people.”

UPDATE: Emails abruptly ceased yesterday afternoon. Unlike TV executives, critics write back.

This Is Why He’s Hot

July 17, 2007 2:28 PM

Ben Silverman’s cell phone is ringing: This is why I’m hot! This is why I’m hot! His ringtone is rapper Mims’ hit song of the same title. Silverman admits to sometimes busting into a little dance when it rings.

Holding court with a gaggle of TV critics, Silverman has firmly won over most press tour participants. They flock to him whenever he stops moving, his rapid patter fueled by towering cups of Starbucks that assistants hand him.

“I went out with [“Law & Order” producer] Dick Wolf last night, drank a little bit too much,” he confesses, and critics nod and smile—Silverman likes to party, and we like that about him.

Critics ask about his childhood. “Television was my babysitter,” Silverman says. His parents divorced when he was four, and he grew up a latch-key kid, watching “I Love Lucy” reruns and NBC’s 1980s staples like “St. Elsewhere.”

As critics throw out a variety of topics, Silverman manages the tricky social art of never disagreeing with a critic—he always seems to be on the exact same page—yet still gets across his very specific point of view.

“Believe in your concept, believe in your finish line, and see things through,” he advises.

His shift from hit producer to NBC executive, he says, has resulted in a bevy of calls from producers from around the world whose TV series formats he pursued as the head of Reveille. “I get calls now that are like, ‘What about that [show] you were chasing?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, but now I’m the buyer.’”

This is why I’m hot! This is why I’m hot!

No Gay Kiss for 'Bionic' Isaiah

July 17, 2007 12:19 PM

Producers for “Bionic Woman” grimly stayed on their talking points after NBC co-chair Ben Silverman saddled their female-empowering sci-fi drama with gay-unempowering actor Isaiah Washington.

“We believe in second chances,” said executive producer Jason Smilovic. “When somebody does something wrong and you have a systemic problem, the best way to change that problem is not by casting them outside the system. It's by allowing them to make amends. So rather than excommunicate somebody, we felt it was better to give him a second chance.”

When asked if Washington would have been hired if he was a white actor who used the n-word, Smilovic didn’t take the bait. “That’s a theoretical question that I really can’t answer,” he said.

Asked if hiring Washington is could be perceived as disrespectful to the gay community, Smilovic said, “Absolutely not. … We embrace the gay community. … We are hoping that they are going to watch the show. … We are in no way making any judgments about what was
said. … This is about making great entertainment, and we found a great actor to do that.

One critic suggested, since producers are interested in allowing Washington to “make amends,” scripting a gay kiss for his character. Smilovic rejected the idea as “breaking down the third, fourth and fifth wall of television.”

Producers also took the opportunity to potentially alienate another interest group by confirming, as posted below, that Jamie Summers' hearing-impaired sister will no longer be hearing-impaired. She will now be a hacker.

Producers also defending hiring another actor on the show: lead Michelle Ryan, who certainly looks the part of Jamie Summers, but some have raised the question whether villain Katee Sackhoff might have been a better choice.

“I’m not worried about Michelle Ryan,” said “Bionic” executive producer David Eick, when a critic suggested Sackhoff upstaged his lead. “Katee’s a pure ensemble player. … There’s a real sense in the pilot of [the appeal] being 50-50.”

ABC’s Low-Budget Deja Vu Monday Reality Strategy

July 17, 2007 12:05 PM

In the summer, the major networks typically air repeats of popular scripted series (such as “Without a Trace”) or first-run reality shows (such as “Hell’s Kitchen”).

On Mondays this summer, ABC has tried to get away with airing reality repeats, and it keeps getting beat.

The network came in fourth last night with reruns of “Wife Swap” and “Supernanny," along with a first-run “Extreme Makeover.”On Sunday, the network also came in fourth, partly due to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (although they held up their respective hours better than ABC’s scripted repeats like “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers and Sisters”).

While Fox trounced competitors with its reality originals this summer, NBC broke through with “The Singing Bee” and “America’s Got Talent,” and CBS stayed the course with “Big Brother” and procedural repeats, ABC reached for the “Fast Cars and Superstars” and fell short.

So far this summer, Fox is first overall with a 2.3 average rating, CBS and NBC are tied for second with a 1.8 and ABC is fourth with a 1.5. The CW has a mere 0.7.

Also Monday: Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” won the night with a 4.0. NBC’s “Victoria Beckham: Coming to America” special won the 8 p.m. hour with a 2.2, giving a stronger lead-in to still-underperforming “Age of Love” (1.8).

Also Sunday: CBS’ “Big Brother” was up 10 percent and was the night’s top show with a 2.3.

Subtle Signs Critics Don’t Like Your Pilot

July 17, 2007 11:46 AM

Questions asked during the TCA panel for NBC’s “Life,” about a detective who lands a $550 million settlement after years of being falsely imprisoned and rejoins the police force with a Zen attitude:

Q: “There seems to be a fine line between having a character that’s quirky and having a character that’s so quirky it might throw off the audience. … You may be close to that line here, and I wanted to ask you about that.”

Q: “In the pilot, many [critics] wonder why he would go back to the police and be a cop again after what happened to him … and I’m surprised, too, at the reaction of some of the police officers. … They’re still taunting him.”

Q: “Why did you decide to give him so much money? That $550 million seems like a lot of money.”

Q: “Going back to the ‘quirky character’ question, could you talk about that line from an actor’s viewpoint? Where do you see the line between quirky and annoying?”

Q: “For the producers, I’m wondering: Did you ever think about a more specific title?”

The Web Fanboy Post

July 17, 2007 9:50 AM

RE: "Farscape": The new order of 10 “Farscape” webisodes is causing a degree of concern among executives at Sci Fi Channel. Nobody’s worried fans won’t watch them. They’re worried fans will watch them.

When Sci Fi canceled “Farscape” in 2003, irate fans launched what is arguably the longest saturated bombing campaign ever organized to try and save a show. Network president Bonnie Hammer says she still gets an email a day lobbying for the beloved, low-rated, puppet-friendly series. So she knows if you give fans “Farscape,” they will want more “Farscape.” And they won’t be quiet about it.

A reporter jokes they could simply make the new webisodes so terrible that fans won’t want any more. This idea is initially intriguing to the executives, in a cocktail-party-musing kind of way, until head of programming Mark Stern correctly points out, “Then they’ll just blame us for screwing it up.”

RE: "Bionic Woman": NBC is reworking a couple aspects of its “Bionic Woman” pilot. Jamie Summers’ grating hearing-impaired sister has been replaced by a younger, non-hearing-impaired (and presumably less grating) sister-character played by Lucy Hale (“How I Met Your Mother”). As for the hiring of Isaiah Washington, who also may get worked into the pilot in a minor way, one top NBC executive shrugged off the “Grey’s Anatomy” controversy: “He’s an actor, they’re all fucking crazy.”

Silverman Panel II: Snap Judgments

July 16, 2007 4:08 PM

NBC buried reporters under an avalanche of announcements. Let’s run through them.

Announced: Renewing “The Apprentice” for a 13-episode, midseason run with celebrities.

Background: Silverman extended an invitation to Trump sparring partner Rosie O’Donnell to join the show. “I think it would be great to have Rosie [O’Donnell] on ‘The Apprentice,’” he said, “Donald personally told me to extend an invite to her.” After the panel, Silverman said the franchise likely will move back to New York. “Going to L.A. was a mistake,” he said. Silverman also criticized NBC for using “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” a heavily female-skewing show, as a lead-in to “Apprentice” earlier this season.

Take: As Silverman points out, celebrity versions of “Apprentice” and “Big Brother” worked in the U.K. There’s great potential for getting at least one last gasp of ratings juice out of the veteran series. And with only 13 episodes ordered, very little downside.

Announced: Signing Isaiah Washington for “Bionic Woman”

Background: Washington’s character tries to convince Jamie Summers to embrace her mechanical side while she struggles to retain her humanity. The character is signed for episodes 2-6. Silverman said some extra content is being shot (ahem, reshot?) for the pilot, so Washington might be in that, too. “He knows he’s got a job to do,” said Silverman, who said he’s also agreed to develop an action-drama pilot for the actor. “I didn’t quite understand what had gone on there [at “Grey's Anatomy,”] but the bottom line is he’s a wonderful actor.”

Take: A surprising move coming from the famously progressive Silverman. Washington will bring “Bionic” more press. But the smart, passionate, geeky fans who would embrace “Bionic” are the same sort of viewers likely to be turned off by the casting of a person perceived as a homophobe incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. And though “Bionic” has a female lead, it’s not exactly appealing to the same “Grey’s Anatomy” psychographic (and, in fact, is scheduled against “Grey’s” spinoff “Private Practice”).

Announced: Landing Jerry Seinfeld for a “30 Rock” guest appearance

Background: Seinfeld is a big fan of the show, Silverman said, and will play himself in the premiere.

Take: Brilliant. Could help jumpstart the struggling series for the second season.

Announced: New reality show “Phenomenon” hosted by mentalist Uri Geller and magician Criss Angel based on an Israeli format.

Background: “We watched the show in Israel and we saw these ratings, and it was incredible,” said Silverman. “We had goose bumps watching the show.”

Take: Few Americans like, or trust, Uri Geller. Criss Angel is a basic-cable-level annoyance. The critics groaned when Silverman announced the hosts. As Sci Fi has shown with its hit “Ghost Hunters,” the best hosts for a paranormal show are those who can convincingly act skeptical. Even Silverman seemed to admit as much, saying, “Uri is … not the central element of this. … The contestants are the central element, and he and Criss are kind of there driving.”

Announced: Moving “Chuck” to Mondays, extending “The Biggest Loser” to 90 minutes, moving “The Singing Bee”

Background: “Loser,” owned by Silverman’s former production company Reveille, raises the whole conflict-of-interest question. “Ben did not make the decision” to extend “Loser,” Graboff said post-panel. “He had input, but it went to Zucker—it was vetted all the way up.”

Take: Moving the likable “Chuck” makes Monday a bit sci-fi heavy, but it could work (Tuesday at 9 p.m. was a brutal time period). Deciding to move “Singing Bee” from Friday to Tuesday is interesting because the second episode hasn’t aired yet, but it makes sense if the show holds up.

Announced: “Green Is Universal,” a weeklong November programming initiative where shows across the company’s platforms will adopt environmental themes.

Background: Post-panel, Silverman insisted showrunners wouldn’t object to adding green themes to their dramas and comedies. “They’re all people who want this planet to survive,” he said. “It’s one of those unifying ideas. If [‘The Office’ boss] Michael Scott has everybody turn the lights off, it’s going to be good for comedy, too.” Later, “My Name Is Earl” showrunner Greg Garcia joked about the initiative, noting, “I hope we’re not graded on the amount of [green] content we have.”

Take: Despite the trendy green theme, the idea weirdly feels like old-school NBC (remember 1994’s “Blackout Thursday,” where the storylines for all the Must-See TV shows included a New York City power loss?). As if Silverman’s ideology was fused with Jeff Zucker’s marketing acumen.

Silverman Panel I: Why’d You Fire Reilly?

July 16, 2007 2:23 PM

This is the very first question newly hired co-chair Ben Silverman is asked upon taking his seat on the TCA stage: “Ben, what would you say about a company that hires [Silverman predecessor Kevin Reilly] for $6 million and fires them after a month? Is that a good company or bad company?”

Silverman visibly cringes at the question. If video cameras were allowed in the room, his reaction would be up on YouTube by now. Silverman had just finished rattling off a huge number of announcements documenting how much he’s done since joining the network a month ago, and the first question he gets is that one.

Silverman tries to answer, something about how he just started and wants to focus on the shows, but his co-chair Marc Graboff jumps in.

“He wasn’t fired,” Graboff said. “What happened was, when Ben became available ... we jumped at the opportunity to bring Ben on board to the company. … Kevin, when that happened, realized or determined that there there was no role for him at the company, and decided to move on.”

The critics laugh uproariously.

What they don’t realize is that this is exactly what Reilly has asked Graboff (and everybody else at NBC) to say about why he left. Graboff is still toeing this line even though he knows it’s a weak spin, even though he’s a bit bothered that Reilly—who exited the company mouthing polite platitudes about his former colleagues to the press—came out firing at NBC after he was snatched up at Fox. He’s doing what he feels is the right thing to do, even though he knows nobody buys it.

Isaiah Washington Coming to NBC

July 16, 2007 10:34 AM

As if Ben Silverman didn’t need enough tough questions at the panel, he has signed fired “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Isaiah Washington for episodes five and six of “Bionic Woman.”

“He’s a wonderful actor and a great performer and he became available,” Silverman said, provoking laughter. “I started talking to him before he became available. … I didn’t quite understand what had gone on there. And we think the character who has been created for him is really strong.”

Other NBC news:

Jerry Seinfeld will do a guest spot on “30 Rock,” playing himself.

New reality show “Phenomenon,” hosted by debunked mentalist Uri Geller and magician Criss Angel, searching for paranormal talent, based on a format from Israel, will “go on air as soon as possible.”

Norman Lear will return to the network with a new one-hour comedy, telling the story of a gender battle.

“The Singing Bee” is on the fall schedule; “1 vs. 100” is off.

Monday schedule shakeup. Now “Chuck,” “Heroes” and “Journeyman,” all shows with fantastical themes.

More coming.

Silverman: NBC Ordering Celebrity Edition of 'Apprentice'

July 16, 2007 9:49 AM

NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman whisks through the lobby of the Beverly Hilton. The term “rock star” has been used to describe the executive, so it’s only fitting he’s accompanied by an entourage of fellow NBC higher-ups, and together they break with the usual TCA pace (which is: meandering), flying past early arrival reporters.

Silverman checks out the presentation ballroom, where he says he’ll shortly announce a celebrity edition of “The Apprentice.” The celebrities will play for charity, 13 episodes have been ordered for midseason (only 13, he explains, to keep the time-commitment demands modest for the celebrities, but surely the show’s middling performance last season likely plays a factor too).

Silverman said he approached producer Mark Burnett and star Donald Trump with the idea. Trump immediately embraced it, though Burnett was tad reluctant. The producer has avoiding doing celebrity editions of his key shows in the past, but Silverman convinced him that “now is the time.”

As for which celebrities will participate, Silverman said one of the first calls he made was to the staff of “The Office,” which he produces. The idea of actors who play office workers on TV competing with business tasks in real life had its appeal.

The critics covering TCA normally dislike the network executive sessions, but Silverman’s Q&A is probably the most highly anticipated event of the tour given his colorful reputation and the drama surrounding his hiring.

A reporter asks Silverman if he’s nervous.

He smiles big. “No.”

A publicist asks if he wants breakfast. He stares at the buffet. And for a moment, the executive known for rapid and decisive decision making, draws a blank.

Nervous? Maybe.

Star Jones Wants Guests In Her Box

July 15, 2007 5:55 PM

Star Jones sat on the TCA stage looking a hundred or so pounds thinner than when she was a co-host on “The View.” Critics instinctively scooted any goodie-filled gift bags closer to their chairs to keep an eye on them.

Jones was here to talk about her upcoming TruTV talk show, which is about “top stories, top guests, celebrities, real people, but, more importantly, what the audience wants to hear.” Jones self-described herself as “Star Jones the prosecutor, the journalist, the talk show host that tells it like it is,” and if there’s one thing Jones is good at, it’s self-describing.

Re: “The View”: Jones said she doesn’t want to “do anything that damages that warm feeling that I had” about the show, then proceeded to say she’s “disappointed” in “ the fact there is still no person of color who has been permanently placed as part of the cast.”

Re: Her absence from the airwaves: “For the past year, I’ve spent some time getting to know Star. … All I want to do is TV that matters again.” This seems to be a Jones strategy: Switching from third person to first person to make it sound like she’s talking about herself slightly less.

Re: Why she won’t discuss her weight loss, which was likely due to oft-reported surgery: “This [panel] is really to talk about the Star Jones show on Court TV … and I wouldn’t want to take away from what everybody here has worked so hard to get us to.” In other words, Jones doesn’t want to disrupt news about herself with news about herself. “I will address it in a more appropriate forum,” she added.

Asked a critic: “What forum? This is a room full of reporters. Isn’t this a good forum?”
The conversation quickly descended into 20 Questions about the mysterious media forum. Jones gave fragments and hints, and critics seemed to vacillate between trying to pin her down and trying to decide if they cared. Finally, she admitted it’s a column in Glamour magazine.

Re: Her show’s format: Jones said she will have a “witness box” where she can “interrogate” her guests.

A critic, unable to resist, asked: “Do you expect to get a lot of people in your box?”
Some snickering in the gallery.

“There’s some people who… would be fine with being in the box,” Jones said. “If you can handle the truth, being in the box is a good thing.”

More snickering.

GSN Party: On the Bubble

July 15, 2007 1:44 PM

Yes, as illustrated by these photos, in addition to the trade reporter geek allure of “The Price Is Right” staff members at the GSN party, there were acrobatic girls sealed in large plastic bubbles in the pool. Kept wondering how they breathe. Figured it’s probably difficult to keep your poise and big smile inside a hot, blurry world that’s slowing filling up with your own deadly CO2. Eventually a man armed with a leaf blower unsealed the bubbles and gave the acrobats a blast of fresh air.



Why Rosie Wasn’t Right For 'Price' … And Who Is

July 14, 2007 11:26 PM

At the GSN pool party, “The Price Is Right” announcer Rich Fields confirmed Rosie O’Donnell didn’t get the “Right” hosting job because she demanded radical changes to the show.

Media outlets first reported that O’Donnell and CBS couldn’t come to terms partly because the former talk show host wanted to move the veteran game show production from Los Angeles to New York City. Then O’Donnell admitted in an interview this week that CBS didn’t want her because she said she wanted to “gay up” the show with a chorus line of male dancers replacing Barker’s Beauties.

But Fields claimed O’Donnell also wanted to reduce the number of games per show from six to four and spend more time chatting with contestants, which would have slowed the pace of the show.

“CBS met with her for one lunch, she wanted to make all those changes, and that was all they needed to hear,” he said.

Industry sources said “Entertainment Tonight” co-anchor Mark Steines, reality host Mark Walberg, GSN game show host Todd Newton and actor Drew Carey are still in the mix for the “Price” gig. CBS went after Ryan Seacrest, sources said, but his price tag was too high. Carey is also asking for a higher rate than CBS wants to pay at the moment, but the network is still interested in him. Steines doesn’t have any game show experience, but tested really well. A couple sources claim (and others deny) that Steines was verbally offerred the gig before Rosie unexpectedly threw her hat in the ring. At any rate, he’s still considered a leading contender. Fields said George Hamilton also tested for the job and was very personable and smooth, except he relied too heavily on cue cards and couldn’t keep the games straight.

At any rate, the show needs to find a new host very soon. “Price” usually ramps up production by mid-July for its fall season. The new host needs to run through a couple weeks of practice shows to become familiar with the 77 “Price” games before shooting the premiere, which needs to be completed by mid-August. Staffers are being told to expect to return to work by the end of the month, suggesting producers and the network are near a decision. CBS declined to comment.

Showtime Execs: We Didn’t Like 'Sopranos' Ending Either

July 14, 2007 5:03 PM

The Obligatory Question of TCA was a tad more interesting when asked of Showtime head of programming Matt Greenblatt: “So what did you think when the screen went black?”

“My immediate reaction was that something technically happened to the TV set,” Greenblatt said of the “Sopranos” final scene. “Personally, I didn’t like it. But if you have a creator like David Chase who’s passionate about what they’re doing, it’s hard to say no. I would have probably tried to talk him out of it, and failed.”

Showtime also announced a Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks pilot, “The United States of Tara,” a comedy about a woman with multiple personality disorder billed as “‘Weeds’ meets ‘Sybil.’” “We never make fun of her condition, though her situations are at times very funny,” Greenblatt said.

One should never judge a project too harshly from a logline, especially with Spielberg attached, but at first blush the project is reminiscent of HBO ordering a J.J. Abrams drama script a while back set in a cancer ward about the effect of hope on disease. Both seem like the sort of development a network would not order from a producer with weaker Hollywood gravity, the sort of development that premium networks do too much of: paying A-list talent for their B-list ideas for the pleasure of being in business with them and industry buzz.

Otherwise, the Showtime executive Q&A is the network’s most congenial TCA session in years. Goodwill garnered by “Weeds,” “Dexter” and “The Tudors” have resulted in the critics, for once, not giving the network a hard time about its ratings and comparing it endlessly to HBO.

“Projects are coming to us first,” chairman and CEO Matt Blank said. “And it’s not a position Showtime has historically has been in. And that’s a big deal.”

Harbert: Paris Hilton Coverage Hurting 'Simple Life'

July 13, 2007 7:52 PM

At the E! Networks cocktail party, president and CEO Ted Harbert said Paris Hilton’s recent incarceration publicity has served only to hurt the popularity of her “Simple Life” reality show and that a fifth season is in doubt.

“We all thought the publicity would help the show; we were wrong,” Harbert said. “It’s not doing well.”

The irony that Hilton’s real-life problems would hurt her “reality” show wasn’t lost on Harbert, who’s always managed to embrace the celebrity-obsessed E! culture without losing a wry sense of perspective.

“People watch it because they want to see what’s going on with Paris Hilton,” he said. “But now everybody’s covering what’s really going on with Paris Hilton. It makes the show seem contrived by comparison.”

Harbert said E! Networks pays broadcast-level prices for the long-running “Simple Life” series, which originated on Fox. “I’m not sure we’re going to do any more,” he said. “You can say it's a 50-50 chance.”

He considered. “In fact, you can say it’s 51-49 against.”

E! Host: I Fled Spielberg/Burnett/Fox Reality Show

July 13, 2007 6:07 PM

Chelsea Handler, who hosts a talk show on mid-ranked cable network E!, said the lure of working on the No. 1-rated Fox network’s Steven Spielberg/Mark Burnett reality show “On the Lot” wasn’t enough to overcome a worrisome flop vibe she said emanated from the production early on.

Though the official reason for Handler leaving, and being replaced by Adrianna Costa, was to focus on her E! program (a reason she reiterated at TCA), Handler added that the reality was more complex.

“I actually quit that show,” she said. “I quit that show because I smelled the disaster happening before it did. Absolutely God’s honest truth. I feel that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Somebody said, ‘You can’t quit a Steven Spielberg show, you can’t quit a Mark Burnett production.' Watch me, watch me quit … It was one [show] or the other, and after a while I realized I wasn’t in a show where I was really going to be able to be funny or have a good time."

A source close to the production countered that Handler was actually let go from the series by producers.

C-Word Gives Critics Pause

July 13, 2007 3:01 PM

When discussing standards between U.S. and British television, the panel for BBC America’s “Hotel Babylon” notes how the f-word is freely bandied about across the pond, though there are still censorship issues with words “worse than” the f-word.

So a critic, half jokingly, asks what words are worse.

“If you really want the answer, here’s the answer,” replies BBC America’s recently installed president Garth Ancier, unexpectedly taking up the challenge. “We’ll tell you … the answer is … the worst word in British television is—“

And he says a four-letter c-word. The bad one. The usual ambient rustling and low talking in the TCA ballroom disappears at the unexpected declaration of the word, probably the most profane word in U.S. television as well. A couple of the panelists try to joke it off, but the word still seems to just hang there.

“That word is not prohibited, it’s just you have to justify it to the censors,” Ancier continues. “For example, on a recent Graham Norton show, the guest said something regarding this, and it was let through because it was in context.”

One of the panelists breaks the silence—by commenting on how the room has gone silent, and adds that most American actors don’t say the word properly. It’s likely the first time a network president has used the c-word on the TCA stage (though I wouldn’t have put it past former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, whose podium aggression was dearly missed yesterday). The obvious follow up question is, “What is the proper context?” but nobody asks.

Why NBC’s Version of 'Coupling' Didn’t Work

July 13, 2007 1:58 PM

“I can answer it with three letters: N-B-C. Very, very good writing team. Very, very good cast. The network fucked it up because they intervened endlessly. If you really want a job to work, don’t get Jeff Zucker’s team to come help you because they’re not funny … I think I’m entitled to say that because I think the way in which NBC slagged off the creative team on American “Coupling” after its failure was disgraceful and traitorous. So I enjoy slagging them off. That’s the end of my career in L.A. I’ll be leaving shortly.”

-- Steven Moffat, a writer and producer on the successful BBC version—and demonized NBC version—of “Coupling.”

The Pool, The Pool…

July 13, 2007 12:09 PM

HBO literally set the pool on fire at the W Hotel and stocked the BBQ grill with lobster. The scene played like a scene from “Entourage” and it didn’t hurt that most actors from the show were there. More commonplace were the actors from “John From Cincinnati,” which is awkward. Um, sure, your show is doing great, everybody really thinks it’s really, uh — hey, look, the pool’s on fire!

Larry David reluctantly gave an interview that rolled along for about 10 minutes until a critic asked him about his creative process, trying to pin down whether David’s secret is giving voice to the internal monologue that most people have. David struggled to professorially pontificate.

“It’s about you looking at me and …. I don’t know what I’m taking about,” he said. Then he tried again: “It’s about …I just can’t bear myself. Okay, that’s enough, I can’t take this anymore.”

Fox Overcomes Erosion and Verbose Titles to Win Thursday

July 13, 2007 10:03 AM

Fox’s second “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” verse dropped 20 percent from its debut last night, yet maintained a still-solid-for-summer audience and won its time period over CBS’ “Big Brother.”

With “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” posting a series low (2.1 rating among adults 18-49), “Lyrics” had a weaker lead-in for its Thursday-night airing. The time-period premiere of “Lyrics” pulled out a 2.7, and a still-strong “So You Think You Can Dance” earned a 3.5 to win the night by a fair margin.

Fox pointed out an “interesting note” this morning: The network has ranked No. 1 almost two-thirds (33 out of 50) of the nights so far this summer.

Another interesting note: Between “Grader,” “Lyrics” and “Dance,” Fox’s penchant for verbose reality show titles resulted in the network using 17 words to title two hours of programming (surely that must break a record somewhere).

In second place (but, as usual, first in households) was CBS, whose “Big Brother” was down 19 percent from last week to a 2.8.

The other networks aired repeats.

FX's Unnecessarily Creepy Posters: A Portfolio

July 12, 2007 6:49 PM


FX is earning praise for its season four “Rescue Me” marketing poster. The network said the poster is inspired by Munch’s “The Scream” (though I also thought it had a Goya vibe). The poster continues a recent trend for FX posters to have a certain creepy sensibility despite the fact that the shows themselves are not creepy. Next slide, please.


“Dirt.” Billed as a lurid Hollywood drama, the red-and-black poster has Courteney Cox as the queen vampire of Hollywood, lording over the town. But the true creep factor is the bodies writhing under her dress. What are they doing under there, exactly? What’s happening? Is this the first basic-cable drama about vagina dentata? Next slide.


“The Riches,” a comedy drama about a family of con artists hiding in suburbia. The poster takes a literal approach with the black ski mask over a home that resembles a face. The windows-as-eyes harks back to the original “Amityville Horror” poster. An FX spokesman said their poster is meant to be comic, but when the house is glowering down at you from a La Cienega billboard at night, not so much. Continue.


Previous “Shield” posters relied on the action movie staple of hero Vic Mackey holding his gun. In this round, Mackey is handcuffed to a dead Strike Team member. Though perfectly capturing the theme of the season, being stuck in traffic next to a blue-lipped corpse plastered on the side of a bus is a bit of a downer.

The upside is: All the FX posters are artful and discussion-prompting, which is arguably the whole point.

According to Landgraf, the posters reflect the FX brand. “Every one of those shows is funny, but they’re also dark – we don’t do ‘Characters Welcome,’” he said, referring to the USA Network tagline. “You’re never going to see a show on air that doesn’t have almost-gothic themes.”

HBO Execs Still Waiting For 'Sopranos' Ending

July 12, 2007 3:23 PM

As expected and reported, “Deadwood” movie questions are dominating the HBO executive panel at TCA and, as expected and reported, executives downplayed the possibility of it happening due to the availability of creator David Milch and the actors.

HBO co-president Richard Plepler also got the inevitable “Sopranos”-ending question and admitted to being just as flummoxed as viewers.

“It was startling even to us,” Plepler said. “I actually thought they withheld the final 50 seconds from me and they were like, ‘no, that’s the ending’ … it’s impossible to tell somebody like David Chase how he should end it. This is the way he wanted to conclude it and we support him in that choice.”

Mr. Plepler also confirmed that Chase wanted to conclude the show with a full deathly 30 seconds of black instead of 10. As for a “Sopranos” movie, the executives said no conversations have taken place (“I don’t even think David has had a conversation with himself about it”).

“Sopranos,” “Deadwood” … who do these fans think they are, demanding endings on shows they pay $120 a year to watch?

Reassuring Quote of the Day

July 12, 2007 2:37 PM

“I think there’s just as much cocaine now as there was 20 years ago” —Valerie Bertinelli, on working on her Hallmark Channel original movie

FX's Secret Agent Pilot Plan

July 12, 2007 1:52 PM

FX is going to focus on building its drama slate during the coming year. The network has six drama pilots in development—but no half-hour comedies—as the network prepares for "The Shield" to exit the network, sources said.

One contender is "The Patriot" by "Pursuit of Happyness" and "The Weather Man" writer Steven Conrad. Insiders describe the project as "the anti-'24,'" about a government agent who has to deal with the day-to-day realities of saving the world that Jack Bauer never had to contend with (if you want to infiltrate a nefarious company, for instance, first you have to pass their job interview).

The lack of half-hours means FX will double punch comedy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" when it returns in the fall.

'Sunny' College Comeback

July 12, 2007 12:44 PM

FX’s comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” returns in September. FX had a panel for the show back during January’s TCA, but the series was pushed back from its planned spring/summer premiere.

A cable network premiering anything in the fall is a risky game (just ask Sci Fi, whose “Battlestar Galatica” never quite recovered after going up against the broadcast networks’ fall premiere bombardment during its third season). The only cable network that seems to be able to pull off a fall original series premiere without taking damage is FX’s “Nip/Tuck.”

FX Networks president John Landgraf said the reason for the “Sunny” fall push was that the series – whose first-season ratings teetered on the edge of cancellation – benefits from Nielsen’s new college student ratings, which include both students and their roommates.

Since FX isn’t overflowing in half-hour-length programming, Landgraf plans to air the second season’s 15 episodes over about nine weeks, stacking the episodes into an hour block during most weeks.

Rosie Returning to 'Nip/Tuck'

July 12, 2007 11:20 AM

Rosie O’Donnell is coming back to “Nip/Tuck” in the fall, confirmed Ryan Murphy, creator of the show at the FX TCA panel. “She’s in episode four, and doing several episodes this year.”

As for the rumored spin-off series featuring Rosie’s character: “That character was so instantly popular,” he said. “We’ve spoken about it, it’s an ongoing discussion.”

Only problem: O’Donnell is seemingly in “ongoing discussions” for just about everything right now.

After the panel, FX president John Landgraf was highly doubtful any O’Donnell series will materialize due to her other offers. “She’s not going to be available for a half-hour comedy on FX,” he said. “Somebody is going to back a dumptruck of money up to her to do a daytime talk show. And I don’t know how any show with her will be compatible for ‘Nip/Tuck’ anyway.”

Fox’s 'Lyrics' Comes in First (And Second)

July 12, 2007 10:23 AM

If it wasn’t for NBC’s “Bee” in Fox’s ratings bonnet, Wednesday night’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” premiere would be a great success.

“Lyrics” delivered a 3.4 rating among adults 18 to 49, built on its “So You Think You Can Dance” lead-in and rates as the second-best premiere of the summer. Fox easily won the night, pushing NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” to its lowest original rating this summer (2.6).

That’s all good news Fox, and as much as one could reasonably expect for the “Lyrics” debut—if it wasn’t for the unavoidable comparisons to Tuesday night’s highly similar “Bee,” which was the highest-rated summer reality premiere of the past few years.

To siphon even more of the musical game show buzz from the night, NBC re-ran their “Bee” premiere to a 1.7 rating before the “Lyrics” premiere. One interesting note about both shows is they’re unscripted half-hours, which is a very rare breed in an era where reality shows typically start at 60 minutes, then get pumped to 90 minutes or two hours if successful.

CBS aired repeats, which on average for the night edged out ABC’s originals of “The Next Best Thing” (2.0), “American Inventor” (2.0) and “The Traveler” (1.2). The CW leaned on its year-round “America’s Next Top Model” crutch by running two hours of the show in repeats.

Deadwood’s Unlikely Prospects

July 12, 2007 9:50 AM

One of the first questions critics will likely ask at HBO’s TCA panel session today is whether they’re ever going to get the two, two-hour “Deadwood” movies. “Deadwood” is to critics what the crazy Russian who ran off into the woods was to “Sopranos” fans, a much-loved phantom whose re-appearance seemed increasingly unlikely.

With creator David Milch’s “John From Cincinnati” drowning in the ratings surf, those hoping for a surprise announcement are going to be disappointed. The current HBO regime has a greater inclination to bring back “Deadwood” for a final round than former CEO Chris Albrecht, and the money is certainly there. But the chances of all the key actors being available at the same time are “highly unlikely.” Milch feels like he’s worked for two years without a day off and is ready for a break. And every day that passes makes a “Deadwood” reunion less relevant.

truTV 4ever?

July 11, 2007 11:40 AM

CourtTV changed its name to truTV, which takes the name of a fully distributed and firmly branded cable network and makes it sound like a start-up venture huckstering cable operators from a booth at the National Show circa 2002. You can almost see the freshly printed truTV banner and pair of bored trade show girls manning a basket of complimentary truTV-branded pens.

According to B&C, a team of seven Turner executives sorted through 4,000 names before deciding on truTV, which is sort of like reading 4,000 books before deciding Dean Koontz is your favorite author.

The problem for CourtTV (since nobody has yet told CourtTV’s own Web site their name has changed, I’m going to keep using CourtTV here) is their viewers prefer their car chase-and-autopsy programming to actual legal shows so a name change to something more action-based does make sense, but perhaps something that sounds less like a meditation network hosted by Rodney Yee could work better.

Interestingly, the last cable network devoted to those type of shows was the Europe-based RealityTV network … last seen at the National Show circa 2002.

Also: Yes, this is a new blog, which means I join the elite ranks of TVWeek.com’s dozens of blogging professionals. The name of the blog is “Rated,” but that’s not on the page yet (long, technical story). Starting tomorrow, I’ll be blogging from cable and broadcast TCA, so bookmark this URL if you are so inclined.

Going First Might Have Mattered After All

July 11, 2007 10:05 AM

In the battle of the dueling lyric game shows, NBC set the bar insanely high last night with its “Singing Bee” premiere garnering a 5.0 rating among adults 18 to 49—the highest summer series premiere on any network since 2002.

Fox (with “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!”) and NBC (with “Bee”) recently jockeyed for schedule positions, complete with executive verbal jousting and NBC leapfrogging over Fox to air first by a single day. Moving up the “Bee” production schedule meant scrambling to sign a host, with NBC settling on former N’Sync performer Joey Fatone.


New NBC co-chair Ben Silverman’s first choice, however, was Ellen DeGeneres, sources said.
Silverman pursued the daytime talk host for “Bee,” but she proved too expensive. Second choice was Rosie O’Donnell as part of the odd lets-offer-Rosie-everything fever that recently swept broadcast networks. Given he nailed a 5.0 rating with a host that likely had a bargain price tag, Silverman could have the last laugh here (unless the critics are right).

The entire six-episode "Bee" order has been shot, and production companies Juma Entertainment and The Gurin Company are doubtlessly waiting by the phone for an additional order should next week’s episode retain the bulk of the premiere number.

For the night, NBC very narrowly beat Fox, which had the MLB All-Star Game (3.6, down from last year, which might change in the nationals). Also: NBC's "America's Got Talent" was on par (3.8); CBS's "Big Brother" time-period premiere dipped slightly compared to last year to 2.5; "Pirate Master" lost a large portion of its "Brother" lead-in in its new 10 p.m. slot (1.5); ABC's "Shaq's Big Challenge" dropped week-to-week and came in fourth place for the hour (1.5).